Sunday, December 26, 2004

Awards Nobody Asked For

"They're off to find the hero of the day
But what if they should fall by someone's wicked way?"

It's that time of year again - time for corny-ass year-in-review columns. I'm giving out special awards to people who gave me hope that our world wasn't going to hell in a hand-basket. This was, after all, a pretty shitty year news-wise.

So, without further ado, ONAF's Political Heroes of 2004:

The North Carolina constitution guarantees a quality education for everyone in the state, but the legislature and the governor have been all too content to let poorer districts wallow in underfunded disrepair. Now, thanks to Republican (!) Superior Court Judge Howard Manning, Jr., that may be starting to change. He has followed up his 2002 decision in Leandro v. North Carolina with an effort to force the executive and legislative branches to comply - and this year, he managed to shake a significant sum of money for poor districts out of the notoriously tight-fisted Governor Mike Easley. The result: hope that poor kids won't continue to be neglected.

Also continuing to do a job well is New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, who had another big year in his one-man crusade to keep white-collar criminals off the streets. If only more people took white-collar crime as seriously as Spitzer...

We give an award to Illinois Senator-elect Barack Obama for the audacity of hope. Not to mention one of the best convention speeches ever. We can only hope that this guy is the future of the Democratic Party.

And an award to North Carolina Senator John Edwards for reminding us that, yes, there are poor people out there - a fact that tends to get lost in the shuffle during election years.

But my personal hero of the year is San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom. It takes a good bit of courage to break the law in the pursuit of justice, which is what Newsom did when he ordered his city to offer marriage certificates to gay couples. Since that courageous act of civil disobedience, conservatives have reviled him for "attacking marriage" and liberals have denounced him for opening up a hot-button issue and possibly costing them an election. Don't believe either of them. What Gavin Newsom did was try to make the world a little bit more caring, a little bit more just - and when confronted with the decision between what was right and what was politically prudent, he made the right choice. So Mayor Newsom, and the officials in Oregon, New York, and New Mexico who followed him, this blog's for you.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Freeze! Or I'll Chew!

Best opening line for an article I've seen in a while: "Greece's freed hijack hostages on Thursday portrayed their Albanian captors as bungling criminals just after money who were easily manipulated and armed with croissants, not dynamite."

Read the whole thing here.

In other news, the Department of Homeland Security has ruled that any pastry of any sort may no longer be sold in airports. Former Secretary Tom Ridge is reported as saying that "the cream in an eclair could be a deadly weapon if used properly."

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Fast Food Nation Gets A Little Smaller

There seems to be very little nowadays that Texas schools don't want to ban.

First there was the ban on various aspects of sex education. Now there's this: a recent Time article tells me that Texas agriculture commissioner Susan Combs eliminated junk food from elementary schools in the Lone Star State.

I'm very sympathetic to Combs' decision here. Obesity among youngsters is at an alarming all-time high, and junk food is the number one culprit. School lunches often lack any nutritional value, and children flock to vending machines stocked with snacks and drinks that are anything but salubrious (yes, Ben, I got that word from Calvin and Hobbes). It's certainly a step in the right direction. It couldn't hurt to keep our kids from drinking six Cokes a day.

Of course, there's the law of unintended consequences to worry about. Cash-strapped school districts get much-needed money from the corporations who buy the rights to sell food and drink in the schools. This new regulation can have two effects: a) corporations, in an effort to keep their contracts, start developing healthful snacks to sell in Texas vending machines, or b) corporations could decide that the advertising that saturates our airwaves will suffice, and cut ties with the school districts altogether. Somehow, I'm betting on the latter - which leaves Texas schools in a bind.

And as how much good will this ban do? Keeping kids off junk food for eight hours doesn't keep them from gorging on Cheetos and Dr. Pepper when they get home. How fit kids are, I'm afraid, may end up being mostly in the hands of parents.

As a result, I'll remain skeptical about this policy until I find out whether Texas' school districts can remain solvent and whether Texas' children slim down some. I personally think that other states looking towards this policy should bring it up in tandem with two other proposals: increased funding for school districts and more extensive nutritional education for children.

Personally, I think the junk-food ban has its heart in the right place, but fails to get to the root of the problem - underfunded school districts and an undereducated populace with respect to nutrition. But at least the powers that be in Texas are admitting that there's a problem. That's the first step towards recovery.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

No Shit, Sherlock

Post ombudsman Michael Getler, in his weekly column, reviews a report from a Pentagon advisory board. Entitled "Strategic Communications," it deals with the image aspect of the war on terror and the Iraq war. Here are some of its findings, according to Getler:

"American direct intervention in the Muslim World has paradoxically elevated the stature of and support for radical Islamists, while diminishing support for the U.S. to single-digits in some Arab societies." (direct quote from report)

"Muslims do not 'hate our freedom,' but rather, they hate our policies. The overwhelming majority voice their objections to what they see as one-sided support in favor of Israel and against Palestinian rights, and the longstanding, even increasing support for what Muslims collectively see as tyrannies, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan, and the Gulf states." (direct quote from report)

"Since Sept. 11, 2001, 'American actions and the flow of events have elevated the authority of the Jihadi insurgents and tended to ratify their legitimacy among Muslims. What was a marginal network,' the report said, is now a community-wide 'movement of fighting groups.' "

"The critical problem for American public diplomacy, the section concludes, is 'a fundamental problem of credibility. Simply, there is none -- the United States today is without a working channel of communication to the world of Muslims and of Islam.' "

Let me get this straight - we needed a Pentagon report to figure this out? Isn't this what the left has been saying since before the Iraq war?

Attack of the Free-Market Liberals?

A few days ago, I posted a comment on Jacob's blog dealing with my reservations about market-based policies for solving health care and environment issues. However, the very next day I open the Independent Weekly, a solidly progressive Raleigh area rag, and I see this article by Farnum Brown.

Brown addresses the following dilemma: this recent election means that most progressive agenda is all but DOA on the Hill for the next four years. So what should we do about it? Brown suggests a strange proposal - turn to that notorious bastion of liberalism known as Wall Street.

Brown's argument roughly goes as follows - liberals can use their power as investors and consumers to turn corporate policies into progressive policies. He credits these ideas for everything from environmentally responsible logging by timber giant Boise Cascade to gay-friendly hiring policies by 318 companies in the Fortune 500.

Brown makes a point. Those of us heavily invested in the stock market can use our power as investors for progressive ends. Progressive shareholders can vote on proposals, buy and sell as a block to send a message to corporations. As Brown puts it: "These actions aren't the result of enlightenment suddenly dawning in boardrooms across America. They're rather the cumulative result of years of cooperative effort by issue-oriented non-profits on one hand and progressive shareholders on the other. Their goal has been to translate the social and environmental concerns of the former into the bottom-line concerns of the latter. And to then take those concerns to one of the few places progressives can still get something done in this country: the annual shareholder meetings of major publicly held corporations."

Combine this with a strategy of socially responsible consumerism, and you have a progressivism that doesn't need the government to succeed.

Of course, Brown's point only goes so far. This doesn't help poorer progressives who don't have the means to invest - as a result, the concerns of the working class aren't as likely to get addressed. (Note that Brown claims victories on gay rights and the environment, but not on labor rights or health care.) Wall Street's solutions will always be short-term - Big Business' progressivism comes in short-term bursts. And there are so few labor-friendly retail outlets (not to mention manufacturers) out there that labor-friendly consumerism will, at this point, lead to a pretty shitty Christmas season for your loved ones. (Seriously, you try buying clothes that aren't sweatshop-produced.) We're so deep in the Wal-Martized economy that wild horses would have trouble dragging us out of it. For that reason I still don't think business-based progressivism is going to solve all our problems - government will likely still need to give the Street a swift kick in the pants here and there.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Free-Floating Hostility

Here's a few random thought nuggets that I've wanted to write in extended form for a while...

The next conservative I hear bitching about "judicial activism" gets a punch in the face. Seriously, folks. In the past weeks, the Supreme Court has taken up cases dealing with Oregon's right-to-die law and medical marijuana law. Conservatives, not surprisingly, want to get rid of both of them. Apparently, judicial activism is horrible, bad, and awful, unless it strikes down laws that conservatives don't like, in which case go right ahead. In fact, I might note that the Supreme Court showed remarkable judicial restraint in choosing to stay the heck out of Massachussets' constitutional issue regarding gay marriage. A taste of your own medicine there, eh, right-wingers?

And how about the media coverage here? When the Supremes refused to rule on the Mass. court issue, they "sidestepped" gay marriage. But when they refused to rule on the Pledge case, it was support for the "under God" wording. This despite the fact that the ruling in Newdow was on procedural grounds, just like the refusal to hear the Mass. case was made on jurisdictional grounds. And yet, one is a "victory" for an ideological point and one was a "sidestep." Liberal bias my ass.

CBS and NBC are dumb. Here's why. Their rationale for rejecting this ad was that they "do not accept commercial advertising that deals with issues of public controversy." And yet, somehow, the political ads that we were saturated with during election season don't fall under this banner.

I have this to say to anyone who says that the Democratic Party isn't welcoming enough - Harry Reid. Seems the new leader of the anti-religious Northeastern elite babykillers is a Mormon from small-town Nevada who is pro-life (in the "outlaw abortion" sense). Dare I say it - our Big Tent is growing, the GOP's is rapidly shrinking.

Remember when Zellephant was talking about how Democrats were playing politics with our national security? Now there's this intelligence bill up there on the Hill, a bill that was thought through by a commission of experts. Were it allowed to come to a vote today, it would sail through both houses. Hell, the President even supports it. So what's stopping it? A Republican leader who refuses to put forth a bill that would split his caucus - even if it would prevent future terrorist attacks. Who's playing partisan politics? At least we didn't filibuster the DHS bill even though most Dems didn't like using the war on terror as an excuse to cut benefits for employees.

Republicans are pushing hard for a Constitutional "Arnold amendment." My question to the Republicans is this - if Arnold had been subject to our new stringent visa rules, would he have even bothered coming here in the first place?

You can all go home now. There's nothing left to see.